Reducing recidivism in the prison population

Reduce adult reoffending following release from prison by 5% by 2023.

Man looking outside

Why is this important?

Reducing reoffending has become increasingly important given the growing numbers of offenders leaving prison. A small group of persistent offenders, many of whom have multiple and complex needs, are responsible for the majority of serious crimes in NSW. These offenders are the focus of a refreshed strategy aimed at breaking the cycle of reoffending and offending more broadly. 

Achieving this 5% reduction in reoffending for those who have been to prison will help break the cycle of reoffending, with fewer individuals committing serious crimes such as sexual assault, drug dealing and burglary. 

How are we tracking?

The priority to reduce reoffending was announced in 2019, with a baseline established using reoffending data from prisoners released in 2017. In that year 26.8% of those released from prison reoffended within 12 months; this increased to 29.4% in 2018. 

The annual average rate of reoffending within 12 months from prison release has steadily decreased since the Premier’s Priority was launched in June 2019, reducing to 28.0% for the cohort of serious offenders released in the 12 months to June 2021. While this sustained reduction is encouraging, the degree of challenge in this Premier's Priority remains high.  

This is not an easy target as the reasons for offending are varied and complex and cannot be addressed by justice agencies alone. Many offenders have lifelong and intergenerational complex needs and engage with many agencies including health, housing, policing, family support, education, and employment. Work is underway to provide effective rehabilitation to reduce the rate of reoffending in NSW. This includes other agencies supporting people who have exited prison and vulnerable people in our community with their health, housing, family support, education, employment, and other needs.


Download the Reducing recidivism in the prison population data information sheet (PDF 232.23KB)

What are we doing? 

The Department of Communities and Justice is committed to collaborating across the agency to ensure better outcomes in relation to reoffending behaviour in those released from prison.  

We are working on ways to ensure that prisons provide an environment that better supports and enables rehabilitation. We are investing in technology and increasing the reach of our programs with a focus on delivering programs and services to those offenders who will benefit most from them. Just some of the initiatives underway include: 

Increasing program hours for higher risk offenders

Increasing program hours for people at the highest risk of reoffending ensures that a greater proportion of this group receive the level of treatment or services that evidence suggests is needed to be effective. It is critical that higher risk offenders, including those serving shorter sentences, receive appropriate support to reintegrate into the community, as well as education, employment, and program opportunities to give them the best chance to not reoffend. We will increase the average hours of treatment to at least 160 hours for 3000 higher risk offenders exiting prison each year.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our capacity to deliver programs since March 2020. We have implemented new ways of identifying and referring higher risk offenders into program pathways and innovated in the way we provide services to short-sentenced offenders.

Delivering better programs and continuity of care for people with complex needs

This initiative focuses on women who are parents, and people exiting prison who have a serious mental illness. We are working to address broader issues and strategies to help with the complex needs of people in these two groups. 

For people who have serious mental illness, strong collaboration within the Department of Communities and Justice, along with NSW Health including the Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network, delivers improved case management and care planning before release. It also means increased access to, and engagement with, mental health treatment and other supports in the community to improve outcomes after release.

For women who are parents some of the initiatives underway include co-locating child protection workers in women’s prisons to help address the complex child/parenting issues which can impact reintegration – as well as other initiatives to support women and their children, including a new diversionary program.

Delivering a prison environment that enables rehabilitation

As part of building a supportive prison environment that promotes rehabilitation and successful reintegration, we are focusing on increasing constructive interactions people in custody have with staff members that can promote positive change and engagement. The message for staff is that ‘every contact counts’ and initiatives such as the Five Minute Intervention are currently being rolled out across all NSW prisons. Developed in the UK, the Five Minute Intervention is a proven approach that helps staff use every interaction they have with people in custody in a positive and motivational way to support rehabilitation. To date, over 3000+ staff have been trained. Numerous staff training opportunities are also being delivered to increase leadership skills and improve decision-making capabilities in prisons.

Transforming prisoner rehabilitation through digital technology

This initiative aims to leverage digital technology to transform rehabilitation in prisons. It is anticipated that the digitisation of services and programs will increase intervention opportunities, boost program ‘dosage’, promote self-efficacy, and improve communication with family and friends. Inmate transition back into the community will be assisted, with digital technology helping remove barriers to successful reintegration.

The scheme utilises highly secure devices that have been purpose-built for prison use and run on a secure network. They are tamper-proof and allow restricted access to approved websites, services and applications including the Offender Telephone System. 

Maintaining contact with family and friends has been positively associated with enhanced prisoner wellbeing and improvements in connectedness. The ability to undertake programs and access services has significant benefits in addressing reoffending patterns and behaviour, and supporting reintegration goals.

Reducing recidivism
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